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Reimagining the London insurance market in the post-pandemic world

Insurance Consulting and Technology
Insurer Solutions

November 24, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically transformed working practices in the London insurance market, in some cases accelerating changes that companies had already instigated.

All indications are that many of these changes will become permanent and require all organisations to rethink how they operate within a redefined concept of workplace.

Among the numerous and still unfolding economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is how it has forced businesses of many varieties to digitalise work over a very short period, and how that in turn has affected how we want to, or even must, work and live.

That has certainly been the case for the insurance industry. As customers sought to allay their concerns and reassess their coverage requirements, insurers that had already modernised and initiated digital transformation found themselves at a relative advantage, both operationally and reputationally.

Almost overnight – by most established commercial timeframes – implementing digital technologies including those that automate tasks or processes went from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’.

The COVID-19 pandemic has radically transformed working practices in the London insurance market, in some cases accelerating changes that companies had already instigated.”

Clare Lebecq
CEO, London Market Group

Employees too have had to quickly adapt to remote ways of working and the delights of video conference calls and webinars instead of face-to-face contact. This has accelerated the transformation of the workplace – and work experience – and has had significant repercussions on how work is done. This also brings new skill demands as we adjust to a different way of working and collaborating, and this comes as skill requirements were already evolving.

Many work tasks have needed to change in order to accommodate remote working or potential difficulties with matching employee availability to when tasks would normally be completed. Many employees had to balance work with caring for children not at school or other vulnerable family members. Some were also involved in volunteering and supporting social causes, such as helping neighbours or NHS workers.

Technology has often had to take the strain, not just in rising to the digitalisation challenge. Remote work impacted business operations on many fronts, including the need to provide computer tools and network capacity at short notice and addressing the new, and very serious, security issues posed by cyber opportunists.

The unique challenges that lockdowns posed to insurers and the way, and speed, by which businesses had to adapt, offer a valuable opportunity for reflection and discussion. As the global economy comes to terms with the pandemic and some of the events and circumstances that have surrounded it, this is the perfect time for business leaders to reflect on what happened during lockdowns, draw important lessons on what worked and what did not, and factor those lessons in to drive positive change and improved performance in the post-pandemic world.

With this goal in mind, Willis Towers Watson partnered with the London Market Group in order to sow the seeds of a broad conversation within the London insurance market on the key lessons learned from the lockdown experience for businesses and employees, what the ‘new normal’ might be once the pandemic is brought under control, and how business leaders may need to adapt strategies in order to thrive in the post-pandemic ‘new normal’.

To inform such a conversation we organised several focus groups with insurance market business leaders and asked them about their lockdown experiences and their views of what will enable insurers to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

Key findings

The broad consensus from these initial conversations has been that we need to ‘seize the moment’ as a community and push forward with a transformation agenda that will deliver greater operational efficiencies, better employee experience and broader diversity and inclusion.

More specifically, eight key themes emerged from the focus groups:

1. Reinventing work

There is now an opportunity to learn from lockdown, and to reinvent our businesses by redesigning job roles, facilitating more interactions, and creating new and compelling colleague and customer experiences. Holding on to what makes us distinctive and special, and using the experience to learn how we can leap forward with new business, trading and operating models in a ‘hybrid’ workplace – where some of the people work some of the time at home and some at the office – is also important.


2. Surviving vs. thriving

There was a strong feeling that we have coped well as an industry in lockdown by taking advantage of a wide range of tools, some of which have been around for a long time. But there is clearly a distinction between surviving and thriving. While “surviving” was crucial for business continuity during a time of crisis, businesses need to envision what the post-pandemic world would be like, what would be the “new normal”, and how they may seize this historic opportunity to effect significant improvements across their operations and organisation.


3. The breakdown of hierarchies

Paradoxically, being remote from each other has in many ways increased awareness of our colleagues, whose particular needs and circumstances have come more to the fore. It feels as if previous hierarchies have fallen away somewhat, and there is a more personal level of connectivity. Many of us feel less guarded, working in our homes. Being remote has increased the sense of proximity, as well as the need for leaders to demonstrate their more ‘human’ sides when engaging with their teams.


4. Networking challenges

Connecting with people has been surprisingly easy with the proliferation of video conferencing tools. Maintaining the size and diversity of our networks has been more challenging though. Before the lockdown it was easy to have a high frequency of low and short contacts; in lockdown many of us found that we developed richer relationships but typically with fewer people. So, maintaining wide networks has become more of a challenge, particularly for younger workers.


5. Cross-functional collaboration

Lockdown has made us think (and rethink) how our organisations work – how we maintain our awareness of how everyone is feeling when we don’t see each other; and how we collaborate, especially across functions, when we are less likely to run into one another. We are used to seeing our businesses first and foremost through a functional lens, with the lateral connection points overlaid. Perhaps we will need to see our business first as a collaboration between people, thinking carefully about who, how and when we come together.


6. Digital transformation and digital trading

The lockdown catalysed a change that will run in parallel to, and symbiotically with, the changes already underway in our marketplace related to digital trading. We need to rethink how new trading models, involving portfolio decision-making and digital trading, will blend with new operating models and new employee experience.


7. Culture and innovation

As we rethink these there are some things we should recognise, protect and cherish: how we build relationships; foster and protect the positive aspects of company culture; create innovation; and offer personal development. The same is true for commercial relationships; the innovation and commerciality for which the London Market is rightly famous often comes from protracted rounds of negotiation between brokers and underwriters as they hammer out a deal. These subsequent rounds were more difficult in lockdown where the parties could ‘hide’ behind emails or be relatively hard to connect with as our days became busier. But there are also elements of culture that we need to change and remote working is an opportunity do this, for example by enabling a more diverse workforce.


8. The danger of ‘slipping back’

We need to guard against slipping back and losing the ground we have gained as a market – particularly in overcoming silos and making time to understand each other, as well as the gains we have made in efficiency and effectiveness.


We examine the eight key themes in more detail in the full paper, available to download below. Willis Towers Watson has also developed a 100-day ‘thrive’ action plan based on the key findings, which you can find on pages 18 and 19 of the paper. The plan provides a blueprint to help business leaders seize the moment and transform their companies.

In Conclusion

As we emerge from the pandemic and the restrictions placed on society, it is clear there is an opportunity to be seized. And where London can lead the way, as it has done so many times before. We can re-shape how our businesses work for the benefit of our clients and our people, and trade in innovative new ways.

Practical first steps will depend on the size of the business Obviously our market has organisations of all shapes and sizes, and there are practical first steps regardless of the size of the business.

Steps for everyone — including the smallest
  • Engage with your people – what do they want from their workplace going forward?
  • Engage with your trading partners – how do they see how you do business changing in the future?
  • What will be the critical interactions between your people in the future – both internally and externally?
  • Re-think how your office space works – it is likely that the focus will move towards more structured collaboration, what changes could you make?
Considerations for larger organisations
  • With scale comes the opportunity to look at the design of the business using more complex and structured approaches.
  • However, it is important to be mindful that not all your trading partners can or wish to move towards radical new models – and therefore to leave scope in your blueprint for how you will engage with firms at different stages.
  • The benefit of factoring this in means bigger firms will continue to be able to avail themselves of the new ideas that frequently emerge disproportionately from the smaller organisations.

About the London Market Group

The London Insurance Market leads the world in providing specialty commercial insurance and four key market constituents - the International Underwriting Association of London (IUA), Lloyd’s, the Lloyd’s Market Association (LMA) and the London & International Insurance Brokers’ Association (LIIBA). The London Market Group is the only body which speaks collectively for all practitioners in this significant market, representing the views of insurance brokers, those insurers and reinsurers operating within Lloyd’s, and branches of overseas insurers and reinsurers operating in London – reflecting the full extent of the Market.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. Our Insurance Consulting and Technology team provides a powerful combination of advisory services for insurance companies, integrated with leading-edge technology solutions and software, all underpinned by unparalleled analytical capability. No other technology provider or insurance consultancy offers the combination of domain expertise and leading-edge technology that we do. We help our clients make better decisions faster, to reduce cost, improve efficiency, grow profitably and transform their businesses.

We welcome your feedback on any of these points. Or if you would like to discuss any other aspects of the paper and the questions and potential actions it raises, please contact any of the authors below.

Authors

Rachel Crocker
Senior Project Manager
London Market Group (LMG)

Richard Clarkson
Head of London Market Consulting
Insurance Consulting and Technology

Director of Willis Towers Watson’s Digital Incubator and leader of the Future of Work Strategy Advisory Services for Great Britain and Western Europe

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